Food shows have always had an audience. I have watched food shows on TV for as long as I can remember, be it Jiggs Kalra’s forward-thinking show or the hilariously well-seasoned Chef Yan. Years later when I got to be part of a food segment on the telly, it was an eye-opener more than a taste-bud tickler. There are some things about food shows that the telly won’t tell, ever. Let’s peep into what goes into the food shows, of course behind the scenes.
Food is the star and the story
Off late, we see the bulge of TV-ready chefs who love to present their own work. Works best that way. Unless the chef is really handicapped at presenting does one need a presenter. And by presenter I do not mean a lipstick-clad-heel-totting-accent-spewing specimen who could, in real life, burn water while boiling! And that is not a biased but a seen and tested statement. Thankfully things are shifting towards the better. The presenter needs to know and understand food, sometimes its history and most times the process food ingredients go through.
Use, re-use and abuse
No food show can survive if the presenter garnishes the script with hackneyed, boring phrases and epithets that could numb your ear and tongue. It starts with “awesome”, goes on to “amazing” and ends on “absolutely mind-blowing”. The other level of presenters use parboiled phrases like “melt-in-the-mouth”, “flavourful”, “beautiful textures” and “crunchy and juicy”. Sure one can learn this by watching a couple of shows on the tube or reading a few food bloggers.
1 Tablespoon = 3 Tablespoons
Food on some food shows is made not the way it is told. There are various re-takes and that would mean starting all over again or at the stage where it has been left. Many chefs add extra oil, condiments or spices, of course off-camera; including secretly adding MSG (read more here: msg-for-msg). Purely unethical. Incorrect communication. A lot of shows, internationally, have bravely ventured outside of the studio into real surroundings and settings where “let’s add this since nobody is watching” is not an option.
Food shows on the telly are entertaining as they are informative. You learn about foods in various cultural set-ups and countries, know about celebrity chefs, popular restaurants or food trucks to try-out and feel encouraged to try to make that dish at home. The shows, like the ingredients used, must be true to the taste.
There are three things that can work for a restaurant.
Location. Known chef. Food.
In case of Omnia Baharat, all three work cohesively, like the food that is served there.
Plonked in the prime of Mall of Emirates on Level 2, Omnia Baharat may wear a comparatively deserted look because of the overflowing restaurant branch whose parent outlet has a fabled Michelin star, but this gem sure has a good menu and a mean burger to offer!
This restaurant is co-owned by celebrity chef Silvena Rowe, usually remembered for culinary agony aunt columns in a local daily. Eat here and you shall know of her culinary craft. Little wonder that she has cooked and fed royalty to rockstar. The restaurant claims “we serve real food” seemed a little clamorous since the menu seriously does the talking. But let me dismiss that as a whim of an agency-bred glutton.
My colleague ordered the house burger featuring Aberdeen Angus and I settled for the Omnia Wagyu. Also asked for a side order of hand-cut fries on the side (the cultural hangover of eating at burger chains in food courts).
The burger was presented on the table, looking shiny as a penny, with an artistic swipe of sauce. I was particularly looking forward to the sumac flavoured caramelised onions that sat on top pf the Wagyu patty, done medium well. It might look deceptively ‘mouthable’ but that glossy artisan bun, toasted on the inside, can throw a real challenge to the best big mouths in town. The flavouring of the burger was mild yet tasty. Certainly, one of the best burgers I have had here in the UAE.
In fact, it brought back memories of a pub burger I had in London, in July this year. I am beginning to favour the British over the Americans at constructing a better burger.
The thinly cut fries were crispy albeit a tad oily. But one tends to overlook that when the burger you are chowing down is so tasty.
A local online cleaning platform reached out to me regarding increasing awareness about food wastage. They are committed to improving the world around and that includes showing a little more respect to food.
To mark World Food Day, that is marked today ie 16 October, Helpling has created an infographic on the scale of food waste in the UAE. Food waste has a huge environmental impact, and can be combatted by every one of us in our own homes. here are a few things that we can all do and help not wasting food.
More often than not, some of the food we buy in the supermarket will spoil before it’s eaten and get thrown away. Even if it’s only a small amount each time, it all adds up. Avoid getting sucked in by food offers you don’t need. And the number one classic piece of advice: never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!
Keep a mental note of what you have in your fridge or larder. Make your meals that use those ingredients. This will help reduce the amount of food you throw out. Drying herbs and last them longer. Check out a site like foodgawker for some inspiration.
Store food properly
Proper storage of certain foods can drastically impact their longevity. You should have a cool and dry cupboard or storage area for any dry, long-life products. Sealable plastic containers, jars with lids, and resealable bags are all ideal for these foods. Choose a container that has adequate space for your produce without allowing too much air inside.
Work that Fridge
Keep your fridge clean and hygienic, and at the right temperature (ideally around 4 degrees Celsius) and your food will stay fresh for longer. Get into the habit of rotating your foods in the fridge each time you shop. Bring items from the back towards the front, as these will have the soonest use-by-dates. This prevents anything from being left at the back and spreading bacteria if it goes off.
Manage what you can eat at home by serving portions that will be tackled well. Serve the same amount of food in smaller plates. It seems like a lot of food and satisfies us ‘visually’.
Do Not Over-Order
We tend to over-order in restaurants. We like seeing food rather than eat it. I will not ask you to remember the horrors of being hungry that many are these days, but refrain from ordering excess. Refuse side orders or French fries that usually get thrown away. The amount of food waste in food courts is monstrously huge.
Many items that you might just toss in the trash once you’ve used them still have life left in them. Take used coffee grounds for example – there are plenty of inventive ways you can use them before they go in the trash. such as keeping your fridge odour-free. You can also use old lemons to disinfect surfaces, or even clean the inside of your fridge.
You could try composting. It’s nature’s way of recycling food waste. Much of what you would have otherwise put in the trash can go on a compost heap. Check out this simple how-to guide on composting from Eartheasy.
Let us try and reduce food waste. A plea not just to households but to restaurants and hotels too.
Imagine wearing wooden shoes that weigh 8 kilos to straighten misaligned feet. It is perhaps hard to imagine that this boy, bullied at school because of his inability to run, or for that matter, walk properly would go on to become the pied piper of culinary arts and Michelin-starred chef called Vikas Khanna.
Behind the success and public adulation of being the public figure called Vikas Khanna, lies a resilient, hard-working, disciplined man with a fire in his belly to pursue what his heart desires. Little surprise that his most successful restaurant is called Junoon – translated from Urdu it means obsession or a burning desire. I sat him down in a book store after hosting his book launch to talk more about him. That was after he had signed my copy of World Flavours – My Favourite Kitchen. During the book launch, I grilled him in front of his fans and he took it all on his chin with his trademark ‘Punjabi’ humour. He is a man of his word. He loved the radio interview that my colleague and I conducted a couple of months back when he ‘booked’ us to host his book launch. When his team got in touch with us did we realise that Vikas means what he says. The story he tells everyone is about him starting his own catering business for small local parties. “Imagine opening up in an alley behind the house! Who would have come?” asks an excited Vikas. He was 17 then. Usually, boys that age are riding motorbikes to impress a local Rapunzel on the balcony or buying pimple cream hiding under a baseball cap. From there to the pristine training kitchens in Paris to owning his own in New York, Vikas is testimony to the adage ‘a burning desire’. He lives in New York, runs restaurants, takes time out for philanthropy, researches on food, writes books, is known in the White House, has fed numerous Hollywood stars and cooked for various charities – Vikas is indeed living the American dream. But more importantly, he stands for the courage to dream. Dream – what you want to do – then set out to get that dream to reality.
For a celebrity like him has perhaps given more interviews than Gordon Ramsey has used expletives. He is always prepared with an answer. He is a chef extraordinaire – he can have the toughest of audiences eat out of his hand! With his wit, his humour that still stains Punjabi like turmeric on finger nails, his faulty English which he mercilessly hacks at, Vikas can regale you for hours on end with his stories. In this interview, I wanted to talk to the man behind all this; to get a glimpse of that Vikas, who Khanna protects fiercely. After 25 years of being in the kitchen, Vikas is still as nervous as his first time, when he enters the kitchen. “The anxiety of a dish to taste the same each time gnaws at my heart. There is something spiritual about being in a kitchen and preparing food,” he states. Deep inside, Vikas is loyal to taste and food and it is this very quality of his that makes him a star chef!
Through all that Vikas Khanna says and does, one thing that shines through is his love for family. Any display of familial love can get this “hottest man alive” all misty-eyed. While recuperating from a back problem in NYC, his team asked him if he wanted anything comforting and he asked for his mum’s ‘methi-aloo’ or potatoes made with fenugreek. “I could kill for that dish any day”, coos the chef. Vikas believed that that dish would heal him up completely. That dish means the life to him! If Vikas Khanna could go back in time and meet Vikas Khanna, age 17, what would be the one thing that he would tell him? Vikas’s eyes wrinkled up in a smile and said, “You were the foundation.” As a teenager, he was not worldly-wise. He didn’t calculate risks! He just did what he wanted. Had he sat down to calculate risks, Vikas wouldn’t have been what he is now and he is thankful to that lanky ‘duffer’ teenager. The glossy chef overtakes once in a while but Khanna was very comfortable talking about various things of his life. He mentioned that he picked up culinary terminology like “a zucchini should be tender but firm” and breaks into a syrupy smile. When asked on the kind of task-master he is in the kitchen – tender and firm or hard and cold – Vikas says, “Oh, you will not believe it but I am very tender with my team.” He has a multi-cultural team in his kitchen who he treats with love and respect. “But I cut-in different ways.” He adds naughtily. When it comes to deadlines, this smiling chef can sure add in some heat!
A cook book is a cook book is a cook book. In Chef Vikas Khanna’s case, every cook book is a new story that he is waiting to tell all his fans and followers and anybody who cares to listen. Be it the food that grows and is consumed in the Himalayas by mendicants and mountain-dwellers to pan-India recipes that is made during festivities – Vikas picks out a story to tell. No wonder that this kind soul has dedicated the first chapter of his next project called UTSAV, with an invitation price of INR 8,00,000 ie $12,000/-, to transgenders in India. “Nobody cares about that section of society yet no celebration is complete without a song-dance and blessing from them,” narrates Vikas. Food is a ceremony, food is culture and that story must be retold. Imagine the frustration of a child unable to run! Nobody cared about misaligned feet. Like many other problems, this too added to the list of taboo and was kept in within the family. It was not possible to talk about it openly in society. He was called ‘skeleton’ by all his school mates. He only had his parents as his comfort blanket. Vikas braved a very tough and unimaginable childhood. He told himself that he was meant to be something else that the others will never be. Junoon (or burning persevering idea) at that age? Perhaps. When he saw artful gourmet food for the first time, the teen-aged Vikas was moved to tears, “Main inna sona khana aaj tak ni vekhya” (I haven’t ever seen such beautiful food). It is that same man, who now is whipping out works of art that people consume daily. How does he feel? Vikas swallows, puts back his smile and wishes he could see that same 17 year old walk in to his restaurant to see what he is doing now. He’d be proud. Funny that this successful master-chef was once called a jinx – anything that he touched, closed down. End 2006, Khanna was packing up to go back. Restaurants like Purnima, Tandoor Palace, Spice Route of India had all closed down and he didn’t know what to do. Khanna decided to go to Tibet and live there for some time. He is totally taken by the simplicity and spirituality of His Holiness The Dalai Lama so much so that he is writing a book on him! Khanna understood that to be a good chef, he must connect with the root. Otherwise, one is as good as a burger in a fast-food joint. Nobody remembers the taste after one has gobbled it down. Vikas Khanna speaks about food like a maestro speaks about music and you can clearly see the common grounds. The only book that Vikas has read from cover to cover is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. His brother found the novel in garbage. Vikas read the book and imbibed learnings about life and passion and flight. Training hard makes all the difference. His life is no different than that seagull that was bored of squabbling for daily food and wanted to do something entirely different. While most chefs dream of cooking for royalty and Hollywood stars, Vikas opened his doors for charity through food – Cooking For Life is an initiative that aids various foundations by raising money through food. He gets the food and the chefs and money is raised from various fundraisers right from Amar Jyoti to UNICEF.
“Write me an award like this!” Vikas says, with his eyes flared up with passion. He is a Michelin-starred chef who has picked up numerous awards and will continue doing so. But what he finds most rewarding are the people stories that indicate to him that he is doing the right thing. Like a 90-year old Canadian-Indian who came to Junoon NYC to eat. Vikas was asked to attend to the table as the nonagenarian was all emotional after eating ‘aloo vadey’ or potato croquets. She called for the chef saying that it reminded her of her grand-mother’s cooking! Can there be anything more gratifying than this, asks Vikas. With the interview over, he gets up, gives me a warm hug and walks over to the crowd that welcomes him flash lights and endless selfie requests. Chef Vikas Khanna will never let his audience down. ……………………………………………………………………… Dev J Haldar is the program director of South Asian radio station Suno1024, an academic and a food critic.
Biryani – a name that conjures up a picture perhaps more luscious than any other stereotype possible. Stay with me on this word – BIRYANI – and you can almost smell the multi-hued, aromatic rice, feel the soft and tender meat, and see a subtle riot of historical gastronomy on the plate. See what biryani does to you!
I think biryani is a global cultural connector. You get biryani’s everywhere. You do not go wrong with a biryani party. Everybody has an idea of what a biryani should taste like. Much before the Ray Krocs of the world took over with breads and processed chicken, the world was already annexed by this simple rice and meat dish.
Talking about biryani is like discussing history and current affairs in one go. So I decided to take the help of my chef-friend and culinary consultant to a huge local group Ankur Chakraborty. We met to discuss this over books and hand-written notes. We decided to keep away from the real thing lest we go astray.
Historically speaking, this dish travelled from Iran to the sub-continent, picking up many things on the way and adding to its list of fabled taste. There is a lot to thank the Mughals for, including biryani. Associating biryanis to royal kitchens happened later. Biryani started as a poor man’s dish – think of it – it was an all-in-one pot dish; replete with the right amounts of carbs and proteins. It rose to the ranks of culinary royalty when premium ingredients started being used namely spices like saffron, cardamom and the best cuts of meat. Quality of rice makes a huge difference. Often garnishes consisting of gold or silver leafing added to the stature of this dish. And so biryanis became synonymous for royal dining and feasting, so much so that it tastes ‘different’ if served lackadaisically. Like wine, a biryani needs to be presented in the cradle of opulent tableware; nothing else would do.
Then there is the debate between a biryani and a pulao. Are they the same? Or do they battle for a higher rank depending on geographical region? Ankur explains the 2 as what pulao is to sedan, biryani is to sports car. To translate that, remember what we were taught in school – a rectangle is a square but a square is not a rectangle? OK, wiping the grin off, I would say what makes a biryani is the quintessential layering of rice and meats. The first and last layer in the pot needs to be rice.
India, alone, boasts of the largest kinds of biryani that can be found on earth. This is by no means the complete biryani works. Just scratching the bottom of the earthen pot. Ok, so, let’s wag off the ones that we know:
The Hyderabadi biryani, believed by purists to be the only biryani by culinary DNA, is pretty high on aromatics.
The Awadhi (or the Lucknowi) biryani is richer because of saffron, dry fruits and meat caramelisation. This biryani is ‘assembled’ – the rice and meat is cooked separately and then layered together for a ‘dum’ (steam-cooking).
The Nawabs of Lucknow took shelter in Bengal when displaced and that gave birth to the Calcutta biryani. At first fans will swear by a butter-soft potato and a whole boiled egg that is there in the biryani, the other difference being in the rice used, called Sella.
Then there are biryanis that are very native to cultures, communities and agricultural practices. The Thalessari Kerala biryani made of Khaima rice that is grown in the region.
The Tamil Muslims of Vellore cook up the Vaniyambari biryani that is ‘meatier’ than the usual ratio of meat in a biryani.
The Sindhi biryani is usually higher on the tangy side as they use more tomatoes.
Their community neighbours, the Memoni biryani goes easy on the tomatoes and food colour.
The Kannada Muslims swear by the Beary biryani, that is lighter but the process of cooking is similar to the Lucknowi biryani.
Then you have a Bohri biryani, Kashmiri’s have their version called the Yakhni biryani, the tribal North East parts of India has their version of biryani using mustard leaves and ‘bur’ or rice wine.
Internationally, am sure, you would have tasted or seen the ‘rice and meat’ dish albeit with different names like ‘Kabsa’ or ‘Mandi’ in the Middle East, The ‘Dan Pauk’ from Burma, the ‘Khao Mak’ from Thailand and ‘Zereshk Pulao’ from Iran. It would be ticklish to know that the Mediterranean dish ‘Paella’ also finds place in the biryani clan.
So, to close, biryani is not just a simple rice and meat dish. It is much more than that. The key to it all is the savour the flavour.
I am listing out a few good places for biryani. Feel free to add on your choices in the comments section. Here are my top 5 casual dining restaurants for biryani in Dubai:
Gazebo – multiple locations, multiple biryani options. They do not usually go wrong with their biryanis.
Appa Kadai – I love their Chettinad and Hyderabadi versions.
Pak Liyari (Naif, Deira) – for what it was worth braving the traffic and finding a table to eat, the tasty biryani soothed all troubles away
Student Biryani – tasty but very oily
Biryani Pot at Dubai Mall – hate biryanis served in food courts. This one stood out!
This is Ankur’s top 5 fine-dine biryani destinations in Dubai:
Rang Mahal by Atul Kochar – for Hyderabadi Gosht ki Biryani
Ashiana by Vineet Bhatia (Sheraton Creek Deira) – Kolambi Bhat: it’s a seafood and scallops with coconut rice preparation in a biryani style
Ushna’s Abu Dhabi (Qaryat Al Beri) – Jumbo prawn biryani
Qureshi’s at Country Club Dubai – dum gosht biryani!
Indigo (Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi) – tandoori prawns biryani